Leading research universities around the world are becoming powerful engines of innovation. The most successful institutions generate tens or even hundreds of millions of euros in annual income from collaboration with industry, patents, licensing and spin-offs. Much of that income is channelled back to researchers, creating a virtuous circle for the university. At the same time, the universities that succeed at technology transfer contribute tangible benefits to society by stimulating innovation and economic growth.
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KU Leuven’s technology transfer office, Leuven Research and Development (LRD), founded in 1972, is one of Europe’s oldest and most successful TTOs and a leader in translational research. In 2014, LRD generated total revenues of €204 million for the university, capping more than a decade of sharply increasing returns. Its success is linked to best practice, and also to the strong conviction of the university leadership that technology transfer is a core function of a research university. This paper, based on interviews with senior university officials and LRD management, technology transfer professionals and a medical technology entrepreneur, highlights the lessons learned by KU Leuven over more than four decades, and offers guidelines for successfully launching a university TTO today.